The Senate voted 50-50, with Vice President Dick Cheney breaking a tie, to pass a $2.2 trillion 2004 budget that does not propose major cuts to Medicaid. The budget would authorize $400 billion in new Medicare money from 2004 to 2013 for a prescription drug benefit and program reforms, while cutting taxes by $550 billion in the same period. Other healthcare provisions include a five-year, $8.9 billion reserve fund for Medicaid reform, using money cut from elsewhere in the program; a 10-year extension of the availability of $2.5 billion in expired State Children's Health Insurance Program funds; and $161 million in 2004 to establish a fund for the uninsured that would grow to $50 billion over 10 years. The budget attributes $11.2 billion in savings to the federal government over 10 years from a cap on medical malpractice damage awards, which has yet to gain Senate approval. The House earlier passed the bill 216-211.
Schlichting gets Ford CEO post
To replace retiring Chief Executive Officer Gail Warden, six-hospital Henry Ford Health System, Detroit, picked Warden protege Nancy Schlichting, 48, who will be the healthcare system's first woman CEO. Warden, who turns 65 next month, is retiring in June following a 15-year tenure. An influential leader of several healthcare organizations, he will continue to work with Schlichting until year-end. Schlichting, a former Modern Healthcare Up & Comer who joined Henry Ford in 1998, is the system's executive vice president and chief operating officer, as well as president and CEO of 668-bed Henry Ford Hospital. She previously served as executive vice president and COO at Summa Health System, Akron, Ohio. A former chairman of the American Hospital Association's board of trustees and a past chairman of the National Committee for Quality Assurance, Warden announced in mid-January that he planned to step down.
Wholesale prices up 0.3%
Wholesale prices for general acute-care hospitals increased 0.3% in March from the previous month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Producer Price Index. The comparatively modest increase follows the largest monthly jump in three years in January, when prices increased 0.8%. Hospital prices were up 5.9% from March 2002, the bureau said. Prices for physician office services were up 0.1% both for the month and the 12 months earlier.
Coalition offers doc incentives
A coalition of large employers, health plans, physicians and other healthcare interests announced a program of physician incentive payments for performance. The first efforts will encourage improvement in three areas: diabetes care, cardiovascular care and patient-care management. Top-performing doctors could see income gains of up to 10% in the form of bonuses paid by participating employers, which include Ford Motor Co., General Electric Co., United Parcel Service and Procter & Gamble Co. The three initiatives are being introduced in metropolitan areas heavily populated by employees of those companies. The diabetes program, to be launched in Cincinnati and Louisville, Ky., will provide annual bonus payments to physicians who demonstrate good control of patients' diabetes. A care management program to be piloted in Boston will reward physicians for investing in information systems to improve care. The Bridges to Excellence initiative is supported by a $300,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.